Mauii and the Big Island

Hawaii Travel Blog

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Given all the trouble in the world, 2003 was a tough year for a Middle aged white guy from America to pick a safe place to cavort.   There are a lot of stupid places to go and a lot of nice places to go but where can I wanted to go somewhere that had both ends of the spectrum and could get there with frequent flyer miles.  It came to me that I only had one state left before I can claim having been in all 50 states and it was Hawaii.  I didn’t know much about Hawaii other than the temptation of luxury and fine dining was only a credit card swipe away.  I had no idea what an unwed, fair skinned, non golfer with plenty of T-shirts would do there but it had to be done.

I traded in some frequent flier miles, packed my long johns and boarded a plane for the big Island of Hawaii.  I’ll get to the long john’s in a minute[1]. 

The thing about getting to Hawaii from Seattle is you have to make a stop in the Los Angeles County Dump errrr Airport to change planes.  Which is a good time to stretch except it is just the worst airport I have ever been in.  It is always a hassle getting through there.  This time it was the half mile trudge between terminals with my over-stuffed, barely carry on luggage.  The fact that it was a warm day in LA, I was wearing a coat because my pack was full and I am too cheap to rent a cart really had me rethinking the whole travel on a shoestring budget.  It was starting to suck and I was seriously considering parting with my hard earned $1.50 for the luggage trolly.  I was pretty happy when I finally got to the gate.  It was long after that I was buckel in and ready for the real travel to start.  With the $1.50, I might add.

The good thing about the longer flights is they still serve a hot meal.  I am probably one of the few people in the world that gets excited about airplane food.  You have to admit that it is a lot like going to a fancy restaurant; it is a really expensive, quite cozy[2], there is usually a line to get in and parking is always a pain in the ass.

It was dark when I finally landed on at the Kona Airport on the Big Island.  It seemed like I was going to have to wait a few more hours before I could experience the sun, sand, honeymooners and t-shirt shoppers.  All high on my list of least favorite things.  As I left the rental car lot, it started to rain hard and I said to myself, “this might not be so bad after all”.

The one thing about airplane food is it doesn’t stick around very long[3].  I was hungry again but my internal Timex was saying it was 9:00pm in my real world.  Way past time for dinner and bed. 

That’s when the temptation began, it was off season and tourism was down, rooms were cheap and plentiful.  None of which I had reserved.  The big internal debate raged[4] until I saw the light, a neon sign actually; a Walmart sitting on the hill.  The debate was over.  Just like old times.  I found a nice parking space, bought a box of Little Debbies and a Yoohoo and settled in for a good nights sleep in my shiny new Minivan.  Sure that was a bit animalistic, but it was cheap and I like minivans.

Even with the extra room, I still woke up all stiff and achy from trying to find a position where the seat belt wasn’t sticking in me.  It felt much the same as when I spent the summer sleeping in my truck with a bike pedal in my back.  Ahh’ the nostalgia.  Walmart was already open, so I went in and took care of some much needed personal Hygiene, bought a box of Pop Tarts and some Gatorade to get energy for the day’s adventure.

If you are still reading this, I will reveal now the reasoning behind the strange choice of travel attire for this trip.  If you’re not, then I hope you recycled.

I lied a little earlier when I said I didn’t research the trip.  I knew that the worlds tallest volcano, Mauna Kea, at around 36,000 ft is in Hawaii and I was going to climb to the top.  OK so 2/3rds of it are below sea level but that last 11,000 feet is still a challenge.  At that altitude, the temperatures rarely get out of the 30’s, usually much less.  So I layered up as though I was going out for a day of snow boarding, packed my supplies and headed up the trail. 

From start to the top, the trail is about 6 miles long and gains about 6000 feet through nothing but dirt and rocks, no people, no plants, no animals.  Much like Phoenix would be if everyone over 60 suddenly disappeared and the temperature dropped about 100 degrees colder.

The climb itself is pretty easy, at least for the first 3 hours, then the Pop tarts start to wear off and the air becomes thinner.  Your pace slows down.  Rest stops come closer and closer.  The headache starts around hour number 5 and last for about 2 days.  By the time you get to the top, the sense of accomplishment is replaced by the overwhelming urge to take a nap.  Which for me, is just like being at sea level. 

I took a few pictures, laid down in the sun and went right to sleep.  I woke up in time to realize that the sun goes down much earlier here then back home.  And when the sun goes down so does the temperature.  I had to get back down before that happened and since I was out of Gatorade and Pop Tarts, I was expecting a rather thirsty walk down.

I stuck to the road hoping a driver would take pity.  Not likely because at that time of day the astronomers are coming up the hill to work through the night.  The road to the top was dirt and not maintained, steep and windy.  Rental cars are expressly forbidden in big bold print on the rental agreement.

What are the chances that a fellow explorer with a similar lack of regard for rental car rules would pull over and give me a lift down.  Surprisingly pretty good, because the next thing I knew, I was sitting in a rental car flying down the hill at an alarming rate of speed driven by a rather chatty woman from Miami.  I felt like I was in the lost episode of “Dukes of Hazard do Hawaii”.  I could swear I heard the tires squeal on the dirt road.  But minutes later, I was at the parking lot with day light to burn. 

I sat in the minivan eating aspirin dry and planning my next adventure.  This time it involved a quick dinner of General Tso’s chicken at a strip mall food court and ...... Lava!!!

I have always been a big fan of Lava[5].  Hawaii is one of the few places where you can get up close enough that the heat pushes you back and the pungent smell of sulphur burns your nostrils.  Since I hadn’t taken a shower in a couple of days, a little sulphur would be a nice change of pace.

The trick to seeing the lava is being able to cross the lava beds that had been left behind by previous flows.  As it cools, Lava hardens into a pitch black rock like a parking lot.  If the parking lot didn’t have any lines and was all jagged and rocky.  You are guaranteed to slice something open if you trip and fall on it.  A trail is worn into the lava from the countless people trekking out to the flows so except for some boulder scrambling, it is a pretty easy hike.  Except at night when the sky and the dried lava blend into one big black abyss.  Bring a flashlight because when the sun goes down, thinks get a bit dangerous.  I set out just as the skies were turning from blue to purple.  Oh, and did I mention batteries?  Bring them too.  This became gradually apparent to me as the evening became darker and my flashlight wasn’t becoming inversely brighter.  I decided to turn back and try again another time.  It ended up being the right decision because as soon as I got back to the Minivan, it started to rain.  I crawled in and went to sleep with sound of rain in my ears and the lump of the seat belt sticking me in the back.  Ahh, this was living.

The next morning, I headed out of the park without seeing the lava.  I like lava but not enough to wait around for darkness to fall again, especially when I had something else to do.

I was excited to go to the southern most point in the United States.  It is at the southern tip of the Big Island.  I have been to many superlative points in my time, Northern most, eastern most, highest lowest, etc. and it would be a shame to miss this one.  I was a little disheartened when I got there since there was no sign which means the picture doesn’t prove anything. 

I continued around the island so as to get back to Kona where the night life was.  And just in case I was able to talk said night life back to my room, I figured I better have a room to talk them back to.  I got a cheap little place for the night.  Alas, I pretty much covered the night life and came back after 10 minutes and watched Hawaii 5-0 and Magnum PI reruns.

Next Morning, I was up and driving around the top of the island on my way back to the lava.  Nice drive, lots of rocky coast line, waterfalls and rain forest. but there was no lava so I continued on.  I got to the lava flows as the sun was setting, checked my batteries and headed back out.  As it got dark, the red glow from the lava flows showed just how far I had to go.  After about 2 hours of watching a stream of flashlights ahead, a slight smell of sulfur wafts through the air getting stronger as you press on.  Then the chill of the ocean air is replaced by a slight warm breeze that becomes hotter with every step.  Since it is dark, there is no ability to judge distance and it surprising when you realize that the red glow of melted rock is only 10 feet away.  And the heat is strong enough that it is impossible to get much closer.  It is mesmerizing like a camp fire after a long day of hiking.  Some people stay the night claiming they are going to commune with Pele the lava god.  But I think they just have sex.  Me I hiked the 2 hours back to the minivan and headed out.

I slept in Hilo that night, redeeming myself my finding a hotel parking lot to call home.  The next morning I headed back over to Kona and prepped for the next part of the trip…Maui.

Since I didn’t rent a car on Maui, I broke down and got a room in Lahaina. It is an old whaling village turned t-shirt town on the West Coast.  There are restaurants and bars with nightly drink specials designed to promote a good active night life.  A couple of problems though.  The first being, Drink Special by definition means there were specials on drinks.  The only thing special about the drinks was the lack of alcohol.  The second being most of the women making up the nightlife of interest are honeymooning.  It would be weeks, maybe months before they could be plied with cheap drinks before I would look desirable.

So I did the off beat tourist thing.  There is a winery on the side of the volcano so I went up and checked it out.  No possible night life here and the wine was crap.  The novelty pineapple wine was undrinkable which is saying a lot from me considering it was free.

Definitely not off the tourist path, I swam and snorkeled just off the beach for a few hours with a couple hundred other humans and a few fish.

I heard there were some nice beaches on Maui so I figured I better check one out or people would think I was weird.  I know, I know, too late, but I went anyway.  I splurged and rented a jeep and drove to a nice secluded beach, secluded yes, vacant no.  There were a lot of people at this particular beach and they were naked. So when in Rome, take off your clothes I always say.  I doubt the Italians would agree but they were 8000 miles away and didn’t get much say in the matter.  I have never really been naked in public so I am not sure quite what the rules are.  Especially since I didn’t have a towel or beach paraphernalia.  It would look strange to just stand there naked with just a pair of sandals in one hand and a swim suit in the other. Going swimming was out of the question due to the cold water affect on certain extremities that might already be a bit challenged.  Sitting down would invite some weird insect or beach fungus problem that would have been embarrassing to cure.  I improvised and sat on my suit on a rock.  It was a nice sunny day, warm tropical breeze and I was getting used to public nakedness.  Then I remembered that I did not apply the necessary level of sun screen to the heretofore never exposed parts of my very sun sensitive skin.  This situation put me into a dilemma that needed to be solved rather rapidly but without looking like a pervert.  A serious concern if I applied it myself.  I thought about watching to see how others handled the problem but that would just increase the perve factor.   So a few minutes later, I gave up and went back to the hotel and watched a Hawaii 5-0 rerun.

I used the jeep to drive aruound other parts of the island and found some very cool tropical hikes between the airport and Lahaina.  I think next time I go to Hawaii, I am just going to rent a minivan, surfboard and beer.  Because really, don't we just rent beer anyway.

So in short, I was glad to check Hawaii off, it is a nice place,  Just be sure you put all your sunscreen on before you get in public. 

Here is the list of things I put together from my experience and peole who went before me......

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*Maui Tacos! A Taco stand off the main drag. It was good and mostly locals.

*There is a Kmart and Costco just as you leave the OGG airport.

*In Lahaina, there is a Safeway in the Cannery Mall.  They have the cash back with Debit card purchase so it is a good way to beat the ATM fees. Just pay with your debit card and get cash back.  There is also another grocery store a bit south (in the shopping are with the Hard Rock) but a little more pricey.

*Up North, In Kaanapali, across from the Highrise, Pink Embassy suites, is a strip mall with a Safeway sized grocery store. They also have a really good smoothie place at the other end. I can't remember the name.

Seared Ahi Tuna, swordfish, & marlin!

Catching the sunrise from atop Haleakala is a good thing to do

Snorkeling at Molokini is a good day out on the water but a big tourist draw.

*I snorkeled around black rock up in Kaanapali. It was a good place to snorkel right off the beach.  This prevents having to commit to a whole day on a boat.

If you've got the $ to spend in the spa at the Grand Wailea, you might also want to go for dinner at the Four Seasons.

There is also the helicopter excursion around the island.  The prices have probably gone up a lot since I was there.

Buy your souvenirs at the ABC's, Hawaii's version of K-mart.

*Iao Valley State Park is fantastic--a deep canyon with high mossy walls and waterfalls. About 20 minutes from the airport. Worth a few hours for easy hiking, or even just the drive in. This was a nice change of pace. It is an easy quick easy side trip near the airport.

*Kihei has a farmer's market twice a week but nothing's cheap in Hawaii, esp. the local pineapple. I drove through this town but must have missed this.  I went through a market there but only saw souvenir stands. I didn't really see the produce. Kihei seemed more expensive then Lahaina, at least grocery store wise.

The Makena beaches are wonderful. The lava fields at the end are very cool, but getting out to the reef to snorkel may be dangerous because of the sharpness of the rock. Bring serious shoes and wear long pants.

There's a good sushi bar at the Maui Prince.

If you like monstrous mega-hotels, the Grand Wailea is filled with Botero sculptures, scattered around the grounds. Their beach is usually deserted after sunset once the waterslides close. The sushi bar is woefully overpriced, along with everything else, but the spa is world-famous if you win the lottery or want to try lomi lomi massage.

In Hana, the red sand beach is great, but at high tide, you may have to climb up the rock to get there, so bring hiking boots. Further along, Hamoa Beach is straight off a postcard. Good swimming, but even the small waves can knock you over.

Past Hana, the seven sacred pools in Haleakala Park are good for swimming and empty into the sea.

In upcountry, Kula Lodge is a good place to sit outside for lunch, on your way up or down the volcano.

Makawao is pretty interesting, with Portuguese cowboys and contemporary artists.

Fruit Stands on touristy drives are expensive - Farmer's Markets are better!

Road to Hana

1. Blue Pool- beautiful waterfall on the ocean. On road past Kahanu Gardens

2. Keanae Peninsula

3. Red Sand Beach - beautiful place!

4. Pools of Ohe'o are beautiful but be careful if it is cloudy - flash floods are incredibly dangerous

*Paia I stopped in here on the way back to the airport. I liked it. - mellow town

1. Anthony's Coffee Company - decent breakfast/java

2. Mama's Fish House

3. Ho'okipa Beach - surfers/windsurfers

Kahekili Hwy (Northern road from Kahului to W. Maui)

*This was a good drive. It took a couple of hours. Narrow roads mean you need to go SLOW and beep your horn when you come around the turns. ��"

1. Bellstone and Ocean Baths - beautiful area but frequent vandalism to rental cars.

2. Kahakuloa Village - beautiful village at bottom of green valley

3. Kaukini Gallery & Gift Shop - nice place to peruse and stretch your legs. Not far down the road there is a place to stop on the right where you can slip through the fence and walk down a path for a cliff view.

Northern Beaches

1. Slaughterhouse Beach & Honolua Bay

2. DT Fleming - waves can be large, crashing hard on shore


Roys Kahana Bar & Grill is supposed to be good


Sansei Seafood & Sushi Bar - incredible sushi and seafood

Kapalua Bay

calm beach, excellent snorkeling


nice beach, good swimming and snorkeling when calm. A little crowded.


1. Whaler's Village - shopping, restaurants

2. *Black Rock - good snorkeling, swimming

3. Marriott - has a great buffet (gourmet, spendy)


1. Old Lahaina Luau - is the best one

2. lots of shopping and galleries, very touristy

3. Banyan Tree is worth seeing

4. *The blue lagoon is a bar in the Whalers(?) shopping center. Locals hang out there because of the cheap drinks.

5. Moose McGuilicudy is a restaurant that turns into a Dance Club at night. The drinks seem watered down so I turned to beer and shots.


1. Ulua Beach - south Kehei, before Wailea, not crowded, nice beach

2. Kamaole Beach Park - three beach parks that are pretty decent


5 star resorts and shopping at the Shops at Wailea. You could probably add a zero to the end of whatever is sold here that you could find elsewhere!


Big Beach/Little Beach - waves can be very dangerous here.
There is a truck on the side of the road that sells pretty good fish tacos on the way there once you get past Makena! *the fish taco is really a burrito. Pretty good but $10.
Little beach is clothing optional and that was an interesting experience. You'll need extra sunscreen though :-).  Climb up over the outcropping at the North end of Big Beach to get here.    
Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve 

Interesting but if you’ve seen one lava field, you've seen them all.

*LaPerouse bay - supposed to be good for kayaking and seeing turtles

*Tdeschi Winery - On the western slopes of the Haleakala Volcano. Overrated and a little rude. The pineapple wine wasn’t very good.   There are only 2 tours a day. Call ahead if you want to do it.






[1] Longer if you are a slow reader, never if you give up now.
[2] Especially in coach,
[3] If your are lucky
[4]< It was either that or the airplane food.
[5] The hot gooey stuff, not the soap.  The soap kind of hurts.  So does the lava come to think of it.

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photo by: WorldXplorer